When one of the children’s parents had a surgery, which included a short hospital stay and a few doctor’s appointments, it was only natural that this experience made it’s way into the children’s play. They began to play ‘doctor’, acting out and working through some experiences and topics that can be a little frightening for young children. This seems to appeal to them though… drama with a flare of danger, all within a safe and secure context.
I had recently introduced a basket of a variety of scrap fabrics and these quickly became bedding and bandages for sick babies (it never ceases to amaze me what children can come up with when they are given open-ended materials!). They carted these up into the loft and declared it their hospital. I watched them and marveled at how precisely their play mirrored their experiences and the conversations they had been involved in or overheard. “Are you sore?” “Do you need anything?” “Can I get you something to eat?” “Time for an appointment!” “I’m going to give you a big hug! Are you better now?” They expressed care, concern, empathy, love, fear, and patience as they nursed their dolls (they much preferred the dolls to be their patients than trying out that role themselves).
After watching them for several days I decided to add a small collection of real life materials… doctor’s scrubs, medicine droppers, an oxygen mask and stethoscopes. In some ways it seemed to have the effect of making their play all the more serious. The children carefully listened to their patients’ bodies with the stethoscopes and gently gave them medicine. One of the children seemed to recognize the oxygen mask and showed the others how to use it. Although they certainly took a lot of interest in these ‘real life’ materials and it did seem to extend and evolve their play, I had to wonder if it was the time to introduce them? As these young children (most of whom are between 24-36 months) are using their play to help them process their experiences, I wondered if they needed to take it further? They were certainly doing well with their dolls and cloths already. Did I need to bring in those real life materials that added to the seriousness of their play? In some ways it may have even decreased their creativity as they no longer had to pretend that a stick was a medicine dropper; they already had one. Maybe I need to remember to step back a little more and let them go to it. I’m still thinking on that one. It’s a bit of a dance I think, when to introduce more materials and when to hold back.
It also got me thinking about how important dramatic play is as a therapeutic outlet for young children… a way to safely sort through emotions and experiences. I don’t think the power of this can be underestimated. It is perhaps a way of normalizing the tougher parts of life, arguments, accidents, illnesses, loss, etc. They are able to recreate again and again, and securely make their way through and to the other side of the experience, safe and whole. Such a special job we have, working with children, always evolving, always keeping us thinking.
Megan Fraser has been writing a series of stories for Natural Pod about her experiences and reflections while having a Natural Pod Play Loft in her care space.